Liberia: Poro Society Takes Center Stage in Bong By-election as ‘Country Devil’ Hunts for PUP Candidate Kolleh
GBARNGA, Bong County – To many, the down-and-dirty District Two by-election represenative’s contest was all about the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and opposition political parties.
But it’s the unlikely campaign issue of the Poro tradition that has the district buzzing as 12 candidates plunge toward the November 16 by-election.
James Kolleh, candidate of the opposition People’s Unification Party (PUP), a leading contender and the only candidate who is a non-member of the Poro tradition, seems to have gotten the worst of the campaign, which features allegations that he’s a non-Poro member and shouldn’t be elected as represenative.
Traditional leaders have reportedly tried to lure Kolleh into the tradition by establishing “Bush Schools” in all of the major towns in the district, a move that has prevented him from meeting residents of those towns.
Some traditional leaders, FrontPageAfrica has gathered, have reportedly attempted kidnapping Kolleh at night in Blameyea Town under the pretense of endorsing his represenative bid, but their plans reportedly failed after Kolleh received a hint by residents of the area.
Kolleh, a native of Yeidiwon, a clan agitating for power swift, has begun stating the essence of joining the tradition, but insists the process shouldn’t be done by force. The theme of his campaign seems to be closely related to claims being preached by his rivals that a non-Poro member shouldn’t lead a district where majority of its residents are members of the district.
Bong County District Three lawmaker and a member of the Poro, Marvin Cole, believes that Kolleh is lying about his plans of joining the tradition.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back is that Kolleh is not a member of our tradition,” Rep. Cole said, during a political rally last week in the district.
“We’re not going to elect anyone as represenative who’s not a member of the Poro Society. You can’t be a non-Poro member and want to lead people who are members of our tradition. That’s unacceptable.”
“This district is a traditional sensitive place and electing a non-member of our tradition would be the worst thing that will ever happen to every resident of this district who is a member.”
Rep. Cole ridiculed Kolleh for not joining the Poro prior to his represenative ambition, calling him a “new born baby”. “Every member of the Bong Legislative Caucus is a member of the Poro. Some of your leaders in the Caucus joined this tradition 10-15 years ago probably aware of that they would have become in the county,” Cole claimed.
The phony-conversion charge threatens to undermine support for Kolleh from fundamentalist Poro members, a crucial segment of his support base.
“It looks like Kolleh was playing a bluff and he got called,” said Oldman Joshua Peabody, a supporter of Kolleh in Blameyea Town. “It could hurt him because we endorsed his represenative ambition based on the idea that he was a member of our tradition. Now he looks like just another lying politician.”
The controversy could drive away as much as 2 percent or 3 percent of Kolleh’s support, analysts said, at a time when he seems to be finding it increasingly difficult to maintain his huge influence across the district.
But Kolleh’s campaign’s defensiveness over the issue was evident at a raucous campaign rally Monday night in Janjay Town.
One speaker, who identified himself as a strong supporter of Kolleh, tried to reassure the whistling, stomping, all-white crowd of over 2, 000 people that their candidate’s stance on not joining the tradition prior to the November 16 by-election was “genuine”.
“We have worked together, lived together. You have done well for us in this district. We respect the tradition but the act of forcing someone to join the Poro is wrong,” said James Foday, who is a member of the Poro tradition.
“If you’re going to vote for Kolleh, you’re doing the right thing,” he proclaimed, prompting cheers from the crowd who had gathered all night.
The crowd was shown a campaign slide show featuring two shots of Kolleh Each time, the audience yelled its approval of Kolleh’s represenative bid.
Finally, Kolleh himself appeared onstage to warn that the district was in danger of losing its “reconciliatory agenda by preaching divisive politics and using the tradition to intimidate non-member”.
When he acknowledged joining the tradition was important to him but shouldn’t be done by force”, the crowd broke into deep, rhythmic chants of “Kolleh, Kolleh, Kolleh!”